A black pastor chided presidential candidate Herman Cain for tearing down African Americans with comments about political affiliation and unemployment, and encouraged him to follow God’s model of reconciliation to help his people.
As Cain’s momentum rises in the polls so is the criticism of his views of racism and economic opportunity. During an October CNN interview, he said, "I don't believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way."
David Anderson, a Maryland pastor and president of racial reconciliation group BridgeLeader Network, acknowledges there is some truth to Cain’s statements.
“He’s right in that things are better” for African Americans compared to life in the early 1960s, Anderson told The Christian Post. However he said systemic racism still continues to plague American society.
“We see that [systemic prejudice] in the wealth gap, we see it in the achievement gap and we see it in politics and as a result we’ve got African Americans who are not achieving as well when it comes to education or when it comes to wealth because of the systemic issues that are at play,” Anderson explained.
Cain did acknowledge that some “elements of racism” do exist.
“It gets back to if we don't grow this economy, that is a ripple effect for every economic level, and because blacks are more disproportionately unemployed, they get hit the worst when economic policies don't work. That's where it starts,” he said.
However, the former businessman also expressed that some blacks are using racism as a crutch rather than seeking out economic success.
"They weren't held back because of racism," Cain said. “People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve."
In response, Anderson said Cain should seek to help those African Americans that are struggling to bridge the economic gap just as God sought to help humanity.
“If you are a Christian, you realize that God is the biggest bridge-builder of all of us, and He built a bridge to a people who did not even care about Him,” Anderson said, referencing Romans 5:8. “He built the bridge to the least of these, not the best of these.”
Cain’s words have caused other black leaders to come forward publicly and denounce him.
On Tuesday, black Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy criticized Cain and his book This Is Herman Cain! in a CNN editorial piece for ignoring government’s separatist past and its role on American race relations.
“Cain evinces no recognition of the Founding Fathers' role in erecting a cruel pigmentocracy (race-based social hierarchy) that continues to poison virtually every aspect of American political, social and cultural life,” Kennedy wrote.
He further disparaged Cain’s statements about unemployed “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, whom Cain said should blame themselves for not having a job.
African-American singer and activist Harry Belafonte denounced Cain on the Joy Behar Show as a man of “denied intelligence.”
He further characterized Cain’s corporate successes as an executive at the top of Pillsbury, Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza companies as “a moment where he broke through the moment someone blinked.”
Blacks aren’t upset at Cain because he is a conservative, Anderson noted. Rather, “what hurts blacks is when you have someone who is a conservative or a Republican who talks about the very people that he represents.”
“To have a conservative viewpoint is great … I think it’s a good thing because we don’t need to be pigeon-holed into one category or political party,” he commented. But Cain’s declarations like his October statement labeling blacks as being “brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view” are divisive and allow racial tensions and prejudices to continue, Anderson said.
“What [it] does when he says those kinds of things is it separates himself from his group and it makes his group look like a bunch of stupid people but he’s the one who’s not stupid anymore and only the smart ones will follow [him],” he explained.
Anderson called on Cain to be respectful of his people even when he’s disagreeing with them.
“If you believe that helping others [can be accomplished] through a conservative business platform, that’s awesome,” he remarked. “But you do it in a way that’s not on the backs or on the negative reputation of your own people. “
To advocate a platform on a negative reputation, he said, “just pushes them down further, it makes them look worse and while it lifts you up for the moment, it doesn’t lift your people up in the minds of others.”